Interview with Leonora Meriel
• Do you write alone or in public?
I write both – depending on where I can achieve the most undisturbed writing session. If I am alone in the house, then I will write by candlelight on the sofa. If there’s a chance of people pulling me out of my writing world, I’ll escape to a café and find a corner to hide in with a large cup of coffee.
• What are your books about?
My books so far are about the meaning of something. My first novel was about the meaning of happiness – what it is to a young child, to someone who has got their life wrong, looking back on a lifetime. My second novel was about the meaning of life on Earth – our patterns, motivations, structures – it was an exploration of the question rather than offering answers. In the novels I’m currently writing, I’m exploring themes of society, belonging, peace, spirituality, technology and culture. I like to write about themes and questions that have no limits to how deep you can explore them – and also no clear answers. It means that your work will be part of a conversation and a wider exploration.
• What is your favourite part of The Unity Game?
My favourite character in The Unity Game is the genderless energy channeller who boards a space vessel so that it can prolong its lifetime. My readers are really divided about whether they love this character and want more (about 20%) or whether they find this character slow, abstract and frustrating (about 80%). It was the hardest part of the novel to write, as I had to strip out any references to gender or time, and still create coherent sentences. So, my favourite part in the novel is when Noe-bouk (the character) discovers that despite thinking that it has been free and enlightened all of its life, it has in fact done nothing but obey the dry and passionless law of logic. Then it realises the potential of experience there is to be had in the universe. I hope that I will one day have a life re-evaluation on this scale.
• Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns during the whole writing process?
In this novel, The Unity Game, my characters and I were in agreement about where they wanted to go, and my original vision of the novel was fairly close to the end result. In my first novel, The Woman Behind the Waterfall, however, my characters had quite different ideas and I had to change a good portion to accommodate what they wanted to do. Once their personality has settled, during a first draft, my characters are entirely independent.
• What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?
What fun it is! There is a great stereotype of tortured creative souls living in misery and eking out livings and masterpieces while having disastrous relationships and miserable lives (did I make that up?). However, having your work out in the public is enormous fun. People read it and comment on it. Some hate it and write long tracts on why, and what – which is fascinating! I agree with a lot of it. Some love it and are incredibly moved by it. Wow. There are book blogs, there are fans, there are readers, there are other writers. All I have ever wanted to do is write, and now I am in a heaving, wild, living community of readers and writers. It’s wonderful.
• Are there any websites or resources that have been helpful to you as a writer?
An amazing website I used for The Unity Game is Sky Map Online. There were some specific references to constellations in The Unity Game, and with this website, I was able to see the exact configuration of the sky from a specific place in the world, on a specific day in the past. Extraordinary! I believe this is the website used by the hugely talented Eleanor Catton in her Booker-award winning The Luminaries, which is structured around the constellations and set during the 1800s. Even if it’s not a feature in your novel – it’s fun to see what the stars were like on the day of your birth, or on the date of your character’s most important event.
• What genre do you consider your books to be in? Have you considered writing in another genre?
I consider my novels to be Literary Fiction, in the sense that they are written with the intention of being serious, high-quality fiction, and contributing to the body of literature in the world. As sub-genres, my first novel was magical realism, and my second novel was speculative science fiction. I certainly hope to try a wide range of genres during my writing career – I’m currently writing a piece of literary fiction, and trying to keep it on the Earth, with no magic – my personal challenge. I’m also writing a children’s book and a poetic novella. As I writer I plan to grow and expand and challenge myself until the very last word I write.
• Who is the most famous person you have ever met?
I’ve met the author David Mitchell at a book reading in London, and he was wonderful, funny, erudite and inspiring. I also knew the Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov when I lived in Kyiv. When I worked at the United Nations, I was present at the Millennium Assembly in 1999, and was thus in close proximity to every world leader of the time, however I was too shy and lowly to introduce myself to any.
• If you could write about anyone (fictional/non-fictional) who would you write about?
I am writing about the people I want to write about. Socrates decided he wanted to make an appearance in The Unity Game, so he snuck in there with Plato. I’m currently re-reading some Albert Camus, and I have a feeling he is going to get a cameo, especially as one of my current characters lives in Paris. There are several Ukrainian characters I’m interested in also, such as the writer Lesya Ukrainka. I’d be surprised if she didn’t turn up soon. With fiction, you can do anything!
• Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
I’d say – please look at our relationship as just that – a relationship. I write the books, but you are a critical part of the equation as the readers of the books, the writers of the reviews, the hosts of the book blogs, the whisperers of recommendations and the requests to local bookshops to stock a great book you’ve just discovered. I have the power to create worlds (you do too!) but you have the power to create success for a writer. I’d like to thank each and every reader for that, and to say – please don’t underestimate your role in a writer’s life and career. Thank you!